The lead up to the Olympics has been difficult. With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the Games a full year, and some U.S. athletes disrespecting the flag during the National Anthem, it’s understandable that many Americans find themselves less excited than usual ahead of the Summer Olympics.
And then there are stories that remind us why we tune in. Stories that give us a reason to cheer for our athletes no matter what’s going on in our society.
Stories like that of Quanesha Burks’ keep us coming back.
Burks is a member of the U.S. Olympic team and heading to Tokyo as a long jumper hoping to bring home a medal and glory to her country.
But before her chance at glory, there were tough times and moments when the dream seemed out of reach.
Growing up in Hartselle, Alabama, Burks worked a job at McDonald’s in order to earn some money. But the money she earned didn’t go to her own bank account, it went towards paying off her grandmother’s car insurance.
“When I worked at McDonald’s, I thought it was the best job ever,” Burks told Sports Illustrated. “I was making $100 every two weeks. It’s terrible, but I came to work every day happy and I knew it was all part of my goal to go to college.”
— ESPN (@espn) July 9, 2021
Burks and her siblings were raised by their grandmother, living paycheck to paycheck. After waking up at 4:30 a.m. to drive her grandmother to her job at a nursing home, getting her sisters ready for school, and attending classes and practice, Burks would show up for her shift at the fast food chain.
She would work the 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift on the weekdays, and the early shift on the weekends.
Burks took up high school athletics when she noticed the potential for earning a college scholarship. After placing third at the 2012 USATF National Junior Olympics, she dedicated herself to the sport.
“I remember looking up the requirements to earn a full scholarship and I wrote those goals down,” Burks said. “I jumped 20 feet and that’s when everything changed.”
Burks would go on to win 11 state titles, including ones in the long jump, triple jump sweep, and the 100 meters. All while maintaining her job at Mcdonald’s.
University of Alabama track and field coach Miguel Pate recruited her hard, going so far as making calls to Burks as she worked the drive-thru.
“Coach Pate actually had to sit me down with my high school coach, Kenny Lopez, and guidance counselor so I could understand how my life was going to change and I wouldn’t need to work at McDonald’s,” Burks said.
She would go on to be named an All-American at Alabama — setting records along the way — while winning the 2015 outdoor and 2016 NCAA indoor long jump.
After Alabama, Burks began her career as a professional jumper, but challenges greeted her on this journey as well.
She missed the podium at the 2018 World Athletic Indoor Championships by 0.04 meters and lost her grandfather a year later. She won the U.S. indoor title in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China to be canceled and the sports world to come to a halt.
She continued to train but suffered a bone bruise in her femur this past February, forcing her to halt her training for 11 weeks.
“It felt like all the odds were against me,” Burks said. “At one point, my coach told me, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to physically be able to go to the trials. The doctors didn’t know if I would be back in time. I was seeing some specialists and they didn’t have much hope in me at all. I was facing so much, but I kept going back to when I worked at McDonald’s. I had my goals set and I knew I could do it.”
She entered the U.S. Olympic Trials as a longshot to make the team — ranked 11th in the U.S. in 2021.
All the years of hardship and training paid off — Burks jumped a personal best of 6.96 meters, qualifying her for the Olympic team.
She’ll head to Tokyo with Brittney Reese and Tara Davis — two jumpers with superior resumes. It doesn’t matter to Burks. She knows where she comes from.
“It’s a blessing to be like one from my home town in a small community, really just representing myself, but Hartselle, the University of Alabama and the state of Alabama,” said Burks, according to local outlet News 19. “Knowing that I’m representing us in Tokyo is just a blessing, it’s an honor and I’m so proud of the other Olympians.”
From McDonald’s to the Olympics. Is there anything more American?
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.